Issues

10 Books to Understand the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Wall of Tears, view onto Western Wall of Jerusalem Temple and the dome of mosque Al Aqsa/Image © Dmitry Abezgauz/Shutterstock

As one of the most contentious and controversial relationships in the world, the Israel-Palestine conflict has found its way into the headlines for various reasons over the last few decades. Often, those reasons are tied to the reignition of tensions or the crumbling of peace talks. It is a particular hot-button issue within U.S. politics with large contingents in both major parties weighing in on the issue – most on the side of Israel, although there is a growing progressive movement advocating for Palestinian rights.

Seeking to flee a rising tide of nationalism and anti-Semitism throughout Europe in the early twentieth century – notably reaching a tragic zenith with the Holocaust – European Jews sought to create a Jewish state in the then-Arab-controlled region that is now mostly modern-day Israel. Both Jews and Arab Muslims argue valid historical claims on the region and this has led to rising tensions between the two groups, ultimately resulting in a failed U.N. two-state solution, which would essentially split the land between the two groups. Multiple wars have ensued and the State of Israel officially came into existence in May of 1948 and now controls much of the disputed territory. The Israel-Palestine conflict once again made headlines in the U.S. largely due to recent statements made by President Trump seemingly upending longstanding American policy on the issue and leaving many, both in the U.S. and abroad, unsure of the current administration’s official stance.

Like any conflict of this scale, the decades-long struggle between Israel and Palestine is a complex one with valid arguments rising from both sides. The books listed below should provide some insight into both the conflict itself and the very human toll it inflicts.

  • The cover of the book 1948: A History of the First Arab Israeli War

    1948: A History of the First Arab Israeli War

    As an Israeli citizen and professor of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University, Benny Morris is well-situated to provide insight into the foundational war at the heart of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. 1948: A History of the First Arab Israeli War is a remarkably clear-eyed and objective study of the event that shaped relations in the region.

     
  • The cover of the book How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

    How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

    In this graphic memoir, cartoonist Sarah Glidden recounts her experiences on a Birthright tour of Israel. At first determined to verify her stance as an outspoken critic of Israeli policy, Glidden instead discovers the deep complexities at the heart of the conflict.

     
  • The cover of the book Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life

    Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life

    With this autobiography, philosophy professor and activist Sari Nusseibeh draws on his personal experience and status as a political insider to shed light on the tensions that define the Israelis and Palestinians. In recounting his experiences as a Palestinian over the last fifty or so years of conflict, Nusseibeh gives intriguing insight into a conflict that shows little to no sign of abating.

     
  • The cover of the book Six Days of War

    Six Days of War

    June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

    While it technically lasted only six days, the aftereffects of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War – also known as the Six-Day War – continue to ripple across the Middle East. Historian and politician Michael B. Oren (he served as Israeli Ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013) gives the definitive account of the Six-Day War and the ways it continues to shape Israeli-Palestinian relations.

     
  • The cover of the book Mornings in Jenin

    Mornings in Jenin

    Mornings in Jenin is a multigenerational story centering on a Palestinian family displaced by the newly formed State of Israel in 1948. The novel presents the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict through the eyes of Amal and the interconnecting – and often tragic – trials of her family culminating with the Battle of Jenin in 2002 (a deeply controversial event that led to accusations of a massacre and war crimes committed by Israel).

     
  • The cover of the book Ally

    Ally

    My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide

    Michael B. Oren – a dual U.S./Israeli Citizen – as mentioned above, served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013, a tumultuous period that saw another failed attempt at peace between Palestine and Israel, the Arab Spring, and fears of Iran’s nuclear program. His book Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide offers a frank behind-the-scenes view of the complicated, oft-strained relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

     
  • The cover of the book My Promised Land

    My Promised Land

    The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

    Utilizing the stories of various Israelis, journalist Ari Shavit weaves together a powerful portrait of Israel’s history. Drawing on interviews, historical documents, diaries, and his own family’s history, Shavit gives a frank and deeply personal take on the state of Israel and its tenuous and contentious position in the region.

     
  • The cover of the book To the End of the Land

    To the End of the Land

    Through the story in this riveting novel, Israeli author David Grossman explores the strain of war on the families of deployed soldiers, centering on Ora, a divorced mother who is devastated by her son’s decision to voluntarily to return to military service. It is a shattering and unflinching enunciation of the very human toll of the struggle between Israel and Palestine.

     
  • The cover of the book The Crisis of Zionism

    The Crisis of Zionism

    Peter Beinart is among the sharpest and most articulate critics of Israel’s current policies and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. His book The Crisis of Zionism lays out the argument that policies advocated by Zionists at present risk alienating young liberal Jews from Zionism. It is a controversial read that nonetheless illuminates the growing unease many American liberals and progressives feel toward Israel.

     
  • The cover of the book I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity

    I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity

    Born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Izzeldin Abuelaish dedicated his life to medicine and the reconciliation of Israel and Palestine. When his daughters and niece were killed by an Israeli bombing in 2009, Abuelaish found his desire for reconciliation put to its most tragic test. This memoir, at turns hopeful and heartbreaking, recounts his story in open and compassionate detail.